Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Are you reading correctly? UPDATED and UPDATED AGAIN

Historiann is down on American Civil War historian James McPherson for his answers (all white, all male, all old, all American....) to a series of questions posed to him about his historical reading by the New York Times.

Now if you ask a lifetime Civil War specialist, you are likely to get a lot of Civil War answers, and a lot of those are going to be American and male, and probably we all privilege our own field and age-cohort a bit, so I'd cut some slack.  But still, yeah...

She proposes to provide her own answers to the Times's questionnaire soon  and invites readers to do the same. Update: It's here now -- with, as she says, lots of linky goodness.

I think I'll take that up.  Five questions:

  • What history books are on your nightstand?
  • What's the last truly great history you read?
  • Who is the best historian writing today?
  • What is the best book in Canadian history?
  • What is your favourite biography of a Canadian?
I'm a bit stumped for answers to these myself, but you might be amused to contemplate them, and maybe even send in some answers.  (A sixth question concerns childhood reading habits, but I'm not sure I care.)

Meanwhile Kaitlin Wainwright at Active History ponders history in the comments sections:
 “a blog without comments is a soapbox, plain and simple.” 
My own version would be "a blog without links is a soapbox, plain and simple." Not that I'm so down on soapboxes, but links are the unique feature that give blogging some claim to the standing of a unique form.

Update, October 9 :  Historiann's own answers are now up here.  The Tattooed Professor's here. It's now a thing on Twitter too: #historiannchallenge.  Russ Chamberlayne and I take shots at the questions:

Update:  October 24:  James Muir of Edmonton has added his nominations, an impressive mix of classics and new finds:
What history books are on your nightstand?
 Chamberlayne: The Diary of Samuel Pepys (Latham and Matthews, edrs.)  now plowing through Vol. VIII, in which Pepys becomes even further convinced of  the disfunctionality of the royal government.
 Muir: David Wilson, Thomas D'Arcy McGee vol. 2, W.L. Morton, The Critical Years, 1857-1873, and Shannon Stunden Bower, Wet Prairie: People, Land, and Water in Agricultural Manitoba (UBC, 2012)
Moore:  Don't read history much at night.  Right now The Children Act and Gone Girl and a bunch of old New Yorkers 
What's the last truly great history you read?
 Chamberlayne:  The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. VII
Muir: Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Penguin, 2012) 
Moore:  Probably Postwar by Tony Judt, though his interview/book with Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century was an extraordinary work, too.
Who is the best historian writing today?
Moore and Chamberlayne passed but Muir stepped up.  Marcus Rediker, Carolyn Steedman, Natalie Zemon Davis, Allan Greer, Robin Blackburn.
What is the best book in Canadian history?
 Chamberlyne: Would have to be a professional or on a prize jury to answer these
Moore:  Concur.  Wait, I am a professional and have been a juror too.  It's still tough. But in the last few years reading some of the Cundill Prize winners has opened my eyes to some terrific histories on topics I'd never find by myself: MacCulloch, Christianity: The First 3000 Years and Platt, Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom. Canadian?  Still stuck, and won't mention myself, of course.
Muir:  This is tough. Top five, not in order, not necessarily current any longer, and more reflective of my thoughts today than historiographic importance:  Bettina Bradbury, Working Families, Allan Greer, The Patriots and the People, Royden Loewen, Diaspora in the Countryside, Ian McKay, Quest of the Folk, and Bruce Trigger, Natives and Newcomers.
 What is your favourite biography of a Canadian?
Chamberlayne:  I'm going to stretch the category to include memoir, and say it's a tie between Charles Ritchie's "Diplomatic Passport" and Dalton Camp's "Gentlemen, Players and Politicians."
Moore:  I'd take Siren Years over Diplomatic Passport among the Ritchies.  Among biographies, I'd probably go with the consensus:  David Wilson on D'Arcy McGee. Though Jean Barman's Sojourning Sisters has stayed with me a long time, which reminds me of Lauren Thatcher Ulrich's The Midwife's Tale (not a Canadian, but close to the border).
Muir: J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe, Allan Greer, Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits, Rick Helmes-Hayes, Measuring the Mosaic: An Intellectual Biography of John Porter
 Muir's PS:  You didn't include, but from Historiann, "If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?" Douglas Hay, et al, Albion's Fatal Tree. What a strange exercise. Less fun when I finished than I thought it would be when I started.
Okay, we are a bit white male for Historiann, for sure, but you could do worse for a reading list.  Any more?

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